Snowshoe Basics

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red snowshoes stacked on wooden floor

MSR Evo snowshoes

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Snowshoes have come a long way, especially since the mid-90’s. In terms of materials and designs, functions and options, it’s hard to think how much better snowshoes can even get. The only problem now is that the number of choices is overwhelming. Here’s a quick guide on what to look for…

Snowshoe History

First invented in Central Asia thousands of years ago, and independently by North American Indigenous people, snowshoes are a necessity for moving about in deep snow. The oldest snowshoe in the world (discovered in the Dolomites, in Italy) has been dated to between 3800 and 3700 B.C.

The indigenous people of North America developed the most advanced and diverse snowshoes prior to the 20th century. Nearly every Indigenous peoples of the Americas culture developed its own particular shape of shoe.

Since the 1990’s, American manufacturers like MSR and Tubbs have refined and improved the snowshoe into what is now a rather spectacular design object. I barely notice my snowshoes when I have them on — and my MSR Evos are several design iterations old!

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When to Snowshoe

In the Adirondacks, you are legally required to wear snowshoes any time the snow is deeper than 8 inches.

Personally, I switch into snowshoes when the snow is deeper than 6″. It just makes hiking so much easier.

There’s no such rule in the Catskills but, IMO, it should be a legal requirement on all public park trails.

It’s really a safety issue.

Trying to wade through deep snow without snowshoes is exhausting. More importantly, it leaves behind a trail of safety hazards called postholes.

Postholes

A posthole is when you sink into the snow, sometimes up to your waist, and then, as you work to pull your leg out, you leave a massive hole in the powder.

These leg-holes will trap future hikers, sometimes twisting their ankles — potentially a life-threatening danger in cold conditions.

Do I Really Need Snowshoes?

Yes.

Benefits of Snowshoeing

Snowshoes open up the world of winter hiking even more than microspikes. Microspikes allow you to deal with icy trail sections, and even navigate steep iced-up inclines. But snowshoes mean you can go wherever you want.

With a good pair of snowshoes, even a deep winter snowfall won’t curtail your outdoor life.

How to Buy Snowshoes

For mountain hikes, you’ll need snowshoes designed specifically for long hikes through rugged mountain terrain.

Do your research. Ask friends who already own snowshoes. Ask online.

Here are four things to consider when buying snowshoes…

  • Consider your total weight, including your body weight and all your gear and supplies. This will help you determine the correct size of snowshoe — and the size is what gives you flotation. Fully loaded with all my gear, I weigh in 200-210 lbs (95 kg) and my 22″ Evos have been great. (But I rarely break trail…)
  • Check the crampons — you’ll definitely need aggressive traction for the mountains.
  • Consider which kind of foot bindings you might prefer.
  • Many models come with heel lifts to make it easier to hike up steep inclines. Anyone who has the heel lifts loves them and absolutely swears by them. (MSR calls them televators. Okay, MSR; you cool.) These models are more expensive, of course, but if you do a lot of winter hiking they’re absolutely worth the extra bucks.

Where to Buy Snowshoes

Buy direct from Mountain Safety Research (MSR) and Tubbs Snowshoes, the two most popular brands right now. (Both are excellent.)

You can also throw some in your Amazon cart…

You can also keep an eye on stock and offers REI.com and moosejaw.com (this is where I picked up my MSR Evo’s).

Early 2021 Supply Problems

Due to the COVID pandemic, there’s currently a materials supply chain problem. There has also been a massive surge in demand this season. Many stores are currently wiped out.

Until these issues are resolved, it may be hard to pick up a brand new pair of snowshoes. Keep an eye on your favorite supplier’s website.

There are two alternatives…

  1. As the season winds down, watch for snowshoes on Craigslist and eBay. Get set for next year!
  2. People are also renting snowshoes

Where to Rent Snowshoes

In the Catskills and Hudson Valley, there are several stores where you can rent snowshoes, either for a short period or for the whole season.

Renting gives you a great way to test brands and models — and even if snowshoeing is something you’ll enjoy at all.

Some of these stores have a deal where a portion of your rental fee will go toward the final purchase price.

More Snowshoe Info

Crucial Hiking Gear

Snowshoes are super fun, but make sure you’re well prepared to head out in the wilderness in the coldest months…

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